Preview & Predictions: Packers vs. Patriots
From the JSonline.com
~When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday. Where: Lambeau Field. Television: CBS.Radio: AM-620.
Series: Tied, 5-5. Line: Packers by 3. Weather: 35, partly to mostly cloudy. Surface: DD GrassMaster.
Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (96-53-1, .643) vs. New England’s Bill Belichick (227-116, .662).
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
RUN TO REMEMBER: RB LeGarrette Blount returns to Lambeau Field, the scene of what probably was his greatest run in the NFL. It was early in the second quarter of the Packers’ game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 20, 2011. On first and 10, Blount ran over ILB Desmond Bishop on a dive over right guard. When A.J. Hawk saw Bishop miss, he decided to hustle over and then hit Blount with a forearm (it had no effect) instead of wrapping up. After that, Morgan Burnett, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields missed tackles. When OLB Erik Walden couldn’t get Blount down inside the 10, he had a 54-yard TD. It’s the longest rush in Blount’s five-year career. Shane Vereen starts for the Patriots, but Blount and Jonas Gray also should play extensively. “In that offense, they want a back that will run hard when their number’s called,” an executive in personnel for an NFL team said. “You may not get a bunch of carries, but when you do get them you run off the lineman’s butt and get up the field. Blount’s a little bit of a deceptive athlete. He can do some things for a big, powerful back. Gray has had a couple games where he blew it up pretty good. He runs hard. That’s the one thing they like in that offense.”
BACK ON THE BEAM: CB Brandon Browner started alongside Richard Sherman in Seattle in 2011, 2012 and the first eight games of 2013 before a groin injury and NFL suspension made him a forgotten player during the Seahawks’ drive to the Super Bowl. An unrestricted free agent, he signed a three-year, $15.15 million contract ($1 million guaranteed) March 14 to join New England. After sitting out a four-game suspension this season, the 30-year-old Browner replaced Alfonzo Dennard as the starter in Game 7. “I thought he was done,” said one scout. “I think the time off has done wonders for his legs. He’s a little bit rejuvenated, but I think it will be short-lived. He’ll just flash what he’s flashing and that will be it. At best, he’d run 4.65. He doesn’t win on speed. He wins on length. He’s a tough son of a gun. Very strong upper body. He’s got those weird kind of legs that go this way and that way. Knock-kneed.” Said another scout: “He looks to impose his will on you. He’s not a vertical speed type guy so he tries to keep guys in front of him or occupied and fighting with him. He knows what he can’t do and plays to his strengths.”
OTHER WEAPONS: The lion’s share of the attention when it comes to the Patriots’ receiving corps falls on TE Rob Gronkowski. Still, WR Julian Edelman is on pace for another 100-reception season. “Very good football player,” one scout said. “Shifty. Just like that (Wes) Welker role.” Former Panther Brandon LaFell is the other starter outside. “He’s a bigger receiver,” the scout said. “Not as elusive as the others, but he catches the ball well. Kind of a buildup runner but he can get down the field vertically and make the athletic play at the point of the ball.”
Former Tampa Bay TE Tim Wright, a converted wide receiver, counts six touchdowns among his 23 catches. “He’s kind of a big receiver,” another scout said. “You wouldn’t look at him as a traditional tight end as much as a big wideout or a small tight end. He’s more of a route runner than he is a blocker.”
REVIVED LINE: The Patriots’ offensive line took a hit after last season when venerable position coach Dante Scarnecchia retired at age 65. Trading LG Logan Mankins on Aug. 26 for Wright didn’t help. Having LG-RG Jordan Devey (four), LG Marcus Cannon (three) and RG Josh Kline (two) make starts didn’t help, either. The situation stabilized to a degree when rookie Bryan Stork was installed at center, veteran Dan Connolly at left guard and C Ryan Wendell took over at right guard. “They’re not flashy players but they’re in sync,” said one scout. “Collectively, they do a nice job. They are smart and effective covering up their guy…you’d be surprised how well Stork has played. You wouldn’t know that he’s a rookie. He plays pretty sound. It’s good when you have veteran guys around you.”
INSIDE STRENGTH: The Patriots struggled to stop the run early in the season. Two weeks after allowing 218 yards on the ground to the New York Jets, Bill Belichick signed former Cardinal-Bill DT Alan Branch. Together with improved conditioning noted in NT Vince Wilfork and overall improvement by DT Chris Jones, the Patriots have allowed 43, 19 and 91 rushing yards in the last three games. “Wilfork is very stout at the point in the run game,” one scout said.
“Stays on his feet. He does stay out there and will chase the ball and give maximum effort. He’s a big, big man that you really have to block and account for….Branch can penetrate. Long and rangy. Not as consistently talented but he’s had some flash plays where you know you really want to keep a hat on him….Jones brings some twitch and activity.”
VIEWS OF THE GAME
Packers beat reporter
Two of the NFL’s best organizations, coaches and quarterbacks meet at Lambeau Field. As an interconference game, the outcome won’t define either team’s season. This isn’t a do-or-die, late-season situation. Both teams can just go play. For those who love football, this is your game.
Packers beat reporter
I don’t see a whole lot of defense being played in this game. Not because the defenses are so bad but because the offenses are so good. The Packers will struggle some in the passing game with Darrelle Revis shutting down one third of the field, but Eddie Lacy and the tight ends can make up for it. It may come down to the last team with the ball. If it does, I like Tom Brady to win it for the Patriots.
Patriots 37, Packers 34
Packers beat reporter
Lambeau Field could be a factor. Green Bay has looked unstoppable against the likes of Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez at home. But Tom Brady is a different monster, one still in his prime at 37 years old. And this Patriots defense has been flustering some of the best quarterbacks in the game. Expect a close game Sunday in which New England’s defense gets more stops.
Patriots 35, Packers 27
Packers beat reporter
Watching Aaron Rodgers against defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, with those 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, should be entertaining for everyone, but how will the Packers use Eddie Lacy? Will they try to establish the running game first or go for the big shots downfield and an early lead?
Patriots 31, Packers 21
Packer Plus editor
Rob Gronkowski is looking every bit like the megastar he was three years ago when he had 1,327 receiving yards and 17 TDs. After a slow start, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end has become a force the last seven weeks, boosting his receiving totals to 58 catches, 812 yards and nine TDs. The Packers, however, will find a way to keep Gronkowski, Tom Brady and the rest of New England’s offense in check. Or, so they hope.
Packers 24, Patriots 23
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